“All my exes live in Texas”
Not being a huge fan of country music, it is doubly annoying when a catchy song snippet keeps twanging in my brain. It’s the only lyric I can access from the ditty by George Strait, an endless, “all my exes live in Texas” tape playing over and over as we meander through the vast landscape of the Lone Star State.
Leaving the gambling halls of Tunica, Mississippi behind, we have one destination in mind, San Antonio, home of the Alamo, where two hundred brave frontiersmen, including Davey Crockett (“king of the wild frontier”) and Jim Bowie (namesake of the large, lethal knife) died defending the old mission against thousands of Mexican soldiers.
Most people know the story. The vastly outnumbered, out-gunned Texas settlers fought to the last man in an epic 13-day battle that spawned countless movies, TV shows and popularized the strangely appealing coonskin hat, which the Dude cannot resist trying on in every tourist shop. Strange how men relive their boyhoods by dangling a rodent’s rear end down the back of their necks. Maybe this explains the popularity of the male menopause ponytail.
Like most larger than life legends, the Alamo disappoints on first sighting. It’s hard to picture murderous Mexicans swarming over the walls in its downtown San Antonio setting, across the street from t-shirt shops and amusement arcades. Gone are the battle-scarred fields and trenches ingrained in the imagination of a generation of young boys by Walt Disney’s depiction of the west’s most famous underdog fight. It would take more than the heroics of Crockett, Bowie and Colonel Travis to hold back progress.
The Alamo is more memorial garden than museum. Strolling past dedicated fountains in the surprisingly compact walled compound, beneath a canopy of giant shade trees that must have witnessed the long ago slaughter, affords a sobering respite from the hustle and bustle of the city that grew from “the blood of heroes.”
While the Alamo played a central role in wresting Texas from the villainous President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s grip, the full story is not quite as heroic as the battle itself. The road from Mexican territory to statehood was travelled by a cast that wouldn’t be unfamiliar in modern times, which is to say bickering politicians, greedy opportunists and inept military brass.
The Alamo might well have been saved had the provisional government answered Colonel Travis’s calls for reinforcements. Indeed, a force of 400 men under the command of Colonel James Fannin set out for the besieged mission but turned back and sat out the battle a couple of days’ march away. Despite Travis’ many entreaties, the provisional government, under Sam Houston, plagued by a shortage of funds and infighting among the ruling council members, failed to recognize the direness of the threat.
The famous call to battle–“Remember the Alamo–should serve as a reminder to soldiers the world over not to count on politicians or military brass when the bullets start flying.
While the Alamo is worth a look, the most surprising and wonderful thing about San Antonio is the Riverwalk. Picture Venice… good…now take away the sinking buildings, expensive food, pigeon droppings and historical context and you’ve got the San Antonio Riverwalk.
The city’s downtown is interwoven with below-street-level walkways on both sides of meandering canals that run past restaurant patios and outdoor bars, hotels and shops. The walkways thread the downtown core, stretching back along the San Antonio river to our RV Park five flat miles on our bikes away. The only question when we leave the desert landscape for the urban environment is where to eat. (Which, along with “Where’s the nearest bathroom?”, is the typical Meanderer mantra).
Our RV park, next to Riverside Municipal Golf Course, where 38 bucks buys 18 holes with cart, is adjacent to the trail. Cycling along the river, in 70-degree weather on a Dame-friendly trail (minimal hills and paved), is perfect until we reach the downtown area where the trail narrows into a sidewalk shared by pedestrians and outdoor seating areas.
The Dude is an excellent cyclist. The man once pedaled from Vancouver to Edmonton for gawds’ sake. He negotiated corners and glided through narrow pathways with ease. Panicked, I kept stepping off my bike, picturing myself losing control and doing a header into the river waters in front of a boat filled with iPhone wielding tourists. A you-tube star is born.
We decide on the Esquire, the oldest bar on the river walk, which has been in continuous operation since 1933. It opened when Prohibition ended and Texans have been pounding back booze there ever since. There are two ways to enter the bar, patrons can stroll in off the street or negotiate up thirty steps from the river side. As they say in Texas, it’s not the walk up that’ll kill ya.
The Esquire is a place to belly up and quaff a few along the hundred-foot wooden bar, ostensibly the longest in Texas. But that’s what they all say. The bar looked tempting but we choose the outdoor balcony, the better to watch the river traffic.
Before Christmas, overhanging trees are festooned with hundreds of thousands of lights. Along the walkway, white paper bags anchored with sand and a candle, await sundown for their nightly performance as glowing guides. Restaurant and hotel staff light the bags at sunset, perhaps as a picturesque reminder to passersby fortified by cocktails not to step too close to the edge.
The world’s most successful capitalists aren’t averse to borrowing an idea or two and San Antonio entrepreneurs have cadged the Venice gondola thing, with dozens of boats ferrying tourists around the downtown area with a little history lesson thrown in for good measure.
Gliding along the San Antonio canals under a canopy of glittering holiday lights will remain one of my favourite memories of this trip. The Riverwalk, beautiful by day, is absolutely breathtaking at night.